This is my philosophy about great coffee: drink it if you can get it, and don’t be a snob if you can only get something simple. But I have my limits on what I accept, and those limits are way above what’s usually available in the little basket in your typical American hotel room. I’m currently in my first hotel room in over a year and think some of you will soon be doing the same, so here’s my guide to making the best coffee.
The obvious option is to find the closest coffee shop you travel to, but that would require you to leave your hotel room, and the whole point of coffee is to build the resources to face the world in the first place. . Instead, I prefer to brew the coffee myself in the most convenient way given the limitations and options normally available in a hotel room.
The best portable coffee brewer: AeroPress Go
Of all the coffee makers in all the travel bags in the world, the AeroPress Go is the best for travel. It comes with a bunch of devices that you’ll want to have on hand. There is the basic system itself, which of course consists of a tube and plunger. But it also packs itself in its own plastic cup and comes with a small container for filters, a scoop and a stirrer.
There are a few reasons why the AeroPress Go is so great for travel. First, it is indestructible. Everything is made of plastic and can be knocked over. It is also light, self-contained and easy to clean. Most importantly to me, it’s an incredibly forgiving coffee maker. Conditions in a hotel room will be different from your home setup: unless you’re willing to spend space on a good kettle and scale, you’ll be using smaller and simpler methods of getting hot water and measuring your proportions. Since you can’t do everything exactly the way you’d like, the AeroPress has the best ratio of good coffee to no fuss I’ve found.
It comes with a coffee spoon and stirrer, if you like to use them when brewing your coffee. (I don’t mind either.)
The easiest way to boil water in a hotel room: immersion heater
This little coil is the thing that unlocked my entire travel coffee setup. The thing about making coffee is that you need very hot water, and the thing about hotel rooms is that your options for making very hot water range from bad to none. An immersion heater neatly solves that problem without taking up too much space.
You might be tempted, like me, to buy a portable kettle – the kind that collapse. I’ve tried two or three, and they’re all bad: too finicky, hard to clean, and too big. This little coil is really all you need to boil water, provided you have a vessel to drop it into.
A few words of warning. 1. I don’t think it’s a good idea to use this in the cup that comes with your AeroPress. I did it in no time, but I think you should use something else. I use my own thermos, but you can also get by with the mugs you get in the hotel room. 2. This coil is a blunt instrument: it is a metal coil that literally hooks right into the socket. Never leave it unattended when plugged in, and never plug it in without first checking if it has been submerged in water.
What you do miss is that you can directly regulate the exact temperature of your water with this boiler. That’s fine because you’re already using the AeroPress, which is very forgiving about things like water temperature.
When packing I put this spool and cord in my travel mug.
Provide good coffee beans or ground coffee
You need good coffee to make good coffee, so make good coffee. How you deal with this is entirely up to you. My setup includes a manual coffee grinder (see below), but pre-ground beans are fine for hotel room coffee if you ask me.
My preferred way of handling the Bean Question is not to bring my own question from home. Instead, I do a little bit of research before I leave and then buy them at a local store when I arrive in town. I try to try coffee that is local and/or new to me. If you choose not to bring a grinder, you’ll need to go to the store and ask them to grind the beans for you – that way they’ll be slightly fresher than buying a pre-ground bag.
The last few items below are completely optional. An AeroPress Go, a kettle and coffee are really all you need.
I won’t deign to tell you what kind of travel mug to use, but this one is my favorite. It’s compact, absolutely spill-proof and doesn’t slosh coffee in my face when I walk and sip. It’s a nice coffee mug.
There are two drawbacks. You have to take some pieces apart to clean it properly; the lid is made of plastic and gaskets. It’s not hard to do and easy to put back together, but it’s a bit of work.
The second is a weird one, but here we go: for some people it’s to good at keeping coffee warm. It sounds strange to complain that a coffee thermos is too good at its job, but sometimes you use it in a coffee shop where you don’t have full control of the temperature. For me, I prefer something that I know will keep my drink warm for hours.
I also use this as my travel water bottle when the coffee runs out. I recognize the irony of having to do all this work to make great coffee and only use the same mug to drink water that will taste vaguely coffee-like if I can’t clean it properly.
Okay, this is where I went off the deep end, I admit it. Grinding your beans by hand, one cup at a time, is obvious and inherently ridiculous when you’re sitting in a hotel room. But I bought this Timemore grinder on a lark a few years ago, and it’s such a good little machine I’m packing it anyway.
There are many different hand mills, but I love this one because it is relatively small and has a satisfying weight. It has a lot of different grind size options. I’ve used it enough that I can see how much it needs to be filled with beans to get the right amount of coffee grounds for use in the AeroPress Go.
It’s over the top, I know. But fresh, ground coffee really does taste better – that is, you have to work with manual labor for it, and you’re going to convince yourself that you can taste the difference.
Bonus: An Easy AeroPress Go Recipe
There are kajillion AeroPress recipes on the web. I’m here to tell you that the best one is the one you end up on yourself after some trial and error. I don’t bother with a scale in a hotel room. (I’m not a maniac, I swear.) Here’s my recipe:
- Place a (dry) filter in the AeroPress and place it on top of the supplied cup.
- Grind the coffee as fine as I want. (The finer it is set, the more work it is to grind by hand.)
- Look at the amount of coffee I put in the AeroPress. I fill just over the base of the filter cap.
- Fill it with just the boiling water just above the number 3 on the side.
- Put the plunger on and pull it up slightly to create a vacuum.
- After two minutes, turn the whole thing around to stir, then press for 30 seconds.
- Taste. Add a little water if necessary.
Here’s a slightly more detailed recipe from James Hoffman:
Photography by Dieter Bohn / The Verge